Early SF: tutorial for designers.
I have spent time and energy (and enjoyed it) getting together tips and suggestions for designers, of spaceships and planes, based on my own fairly wide experience building (and editing and publishing) such models by a wide variety of designers. However, the article has become so large that the forum computer instructs me to cut it down to less than a third - which, sorry, I am unable to do.
I could of course publish it in instalments (this occurs to me as I am typing this message), but if anyone is interested, I will be happy to send you the complete text and pictures. Just mail me, preferably direct, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Tutorial on rocket paper model design
In the course of the years I have built quite a lot of planes. Over the last two years or so I have been collecting and building rockets and space ships in the category 'Early Science Fiction'. Over 25 different models so far, and only a few to go: this is a limited field. Most of these builds can be found on the 'Early SF' page on my website - Zeist Bouwplaten - Import, verkoop, ontwerp en productie van papieren schaalmodellen, maquettes en bouwplaten (cardmodels), Modelbouw, Rietveld cutoutmodels, larger pictures on my photo collection on Flickr: Den Bakker's Photostream/
Some of these models are for sale (Delta7 have a CDRom), others are available as downloads; for some I had to track down the original designer. A few were top quality - I am now thinking of the designs by Joe Sutton, such as the Tintin moon rocket (but beware of cheap imitations, as the saying goes), Buck Rogers' Space Battle Cruiser, the Cosmostrator. Mr Sutton is the right sort of perfectionist: he obviously loves the designing part, and then does what he can to make sure anybody can build his designs, however complicated some of the details may be.
All the more disappointing to find that the great majority of the other designs were really below the standard one would expect. It would appear that most designers concentrate on the outline, the shape of the model they have in mind, but pay little or no attention to the technical aspect of their work. No formers or bulkheads, no spars and formers for wings or fins, no separate tabs to close the segments of the fuselage and to connect them... And when there are tabs, they are generally too long, so that they overlap - which causes an unseemly bulge if the builder makes and adds his own bulkheads. Often there is not even the simplest sketch, or any numbering, or (even worse) the numbering does not follow the logical building order. Another aspect: colouring is often just the barest minimum. A bit more detail makes a model a lot livelier - compare a 'weathered' plane model with a 'freshly painted' model...
To my way of thinking, the real work starts after one has created a basic model. One has to put oneself in the position of a novice, and make life easy for him. This generally results in a much more satisfying end result, both for the designer and for the builder.
(see Figures 1 and 2)
TIPS AND TRICKS
These are scans of some parts of a Spitfire by Moewe / Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Their technique is the absolute top. The best way to experience this is to build these parts of the plane, or much better: build a few of their planes. Some of them come with extensive English instructions.
Symbols and lines
Every designer has his own 'handwriting'. His use of symbols is an important part of that, and can be confusing if he is not consistent or clear in his choices.
1. Clearly indicate the difference between cutting lines, scoring/folding lines or positioning lines. In Figures 1 and 2: uninterrupted line, line with single dots, line with double dots. Other designers use black or white arrows (for hill fold and valley folds) at both ends of a folding line.
2. Find a way to indicate where one has to cut into a particular part, and how far. In Figure 1, the arrows indicate that the tabs are to be cut loose from the main part. Something like this: * or this A is often used.
3. Also decide on a symbol to indicate if a part should be rolled: P is quite clear.
4. In Figure 1, parts which have to be cut out are hatched (the more or less square bits are the openings through which the main spar (figure 2) will be inserted) . Another option is this symbol: ".
5. Many designers indicate the place where one part is glued onto another. In this case, red numbers are used.
6. It can sometimes be very helpful to indicate top and bottom, or front and back of individual parts. Especially in the case of various segments of a rocket. Find a way to do this so that your indicator is still visible when the part is completed! A dot or a star on the part of a tab that will remain visible until the next segment is added will work well. In Figure 1, the numbers on the tabs have the same function.
7. It is a good idea to start your Instructions with a 'Key' explaining your symbols. This can be quite simple, and simple things are often very useful.
See Figure 3
8. Always use thin lines. That makes it easy to cut on the line. Thicker lines always make you wonder if you have to cut on or inside the line, and often bits of thicker lines remain visible in the finished model.
9. In some cases, when the contrast between the coloured area and the rest op de paper is clear enough, many lines can be omitted completely. It is more difficult than you may think to always cut exactly inside a line - with the result that bits of a line remain visible, distracting from the total effect of an otherwise neat build. The Birdmobile birds are an excellent illustration of this point. The figure shows two feathers of the merlin. If you print this, score and glue the feathers double and cut them out you will notice one side is larger than the other - more about this later.
Gluing tabs and formers
I cannot give any advice on the actual process of designing a model. I understand a lot of time has to be put into creating a virtual 3D model on screen. Apparently, once that has been perfected, it can be unfolded into any number of parts or segments, represented in 2D. I have come to understand a bit more of this by building one or two models on the Pepakura site (Pepakura Designer ). (By the way: an excellent way of presenting building instructions, especially with complicated objects like the dragon in the picture. But perhaps I am old fashioned: I don't really like working with a laptop beside me all the time...).
I have no clear idea at all of how colours and other details are added - that is literally rocket science to me.
So let's now jump to the point where all the parts are basically ready. In order to be glued together into a real 3D object, they only need tabs, formers for strength, and a logical order in which to put them together. At the same time, this is the moment to begin to think about instructions sketches. Altogether definitely the most demanding part of the whole project.
1. For a really neat model, the gluing tabs for the parts of the fuselage are designed in such a way that they never cover or overlap each other. Explaining this in words would be very complicated - just build parts 5 and 6 in Figure 1 to see and admire the thinking behind their simple and clever solution.
2. Formers / bulkheads are always laminated / glued on to 1,5 to 2 mms card. They are designed to fit exactly against the inner edge of the corresponding tab. An opening is cut out in the larger ones so they can be manoeuvred in place. I use angled tweezers for the larger ones, and just prick (skewer) the smaller ones on the point of my craft knife.
3. Also important for non-circular bulkheads: the bottom is marked clearly - the little line exactly coincides with the seam in the fuselage.
4. If you want to avoid the outline of the bottom tab (5a) to become visible when the former (5e and 5d) is glued in place, a sliver of paper should be cut away from the lower edge of the former. This option could be indicated by drawing the outline of the tab on the former. Not in this model, but I have often seen it in other models.
5. Wings and fins. Spars and ribs (or formers) are indispensible. A spar will give shape and strength, and help to position wings and fins at exactly the right angle to the fuselage (especially with the fascinating V-shape of the Spitfire wings: build and insert the spar into part 5 and see what happens!). A spar can be just a bit of card, 1,5 to 2 mms (Figure 1 shows the spar for the tail plane), or a box (Figure 2).
6. Ribs or formers correspond to the cross section of the wing at a particular point, and help to make a natural looking wing. They can be inserted into slits in a box spar, glued at right angles to a spar, generally with some extra tabs, or attached comb-like to a card spar (the way the skeleton of a ship model is constructed).
7. Combining the spar and formers glued onto the fuselage at the root of the wing make attaching the wing to the fuselage easy (see parts 11a,b,c and d in Figure 1). In the case of the Spitfire, this 'root' is later masked by so called fairings, streamlining parts. Perhaps a nice detail to add to some space ships.
How to prevent dreaded white bits showing? We probably all use watercolours or felt tipped pens to mask scoring and folding lines. However, a few things can also be done at the designing stage.
1. Sometimes a white field indicates where another part goes. See the white shapes marked 12, 13 and 17 on top of part 5 in Figure 1. Even careful builders are sometimes left with a little bit of this white showing. This is why I prefer some colour to 'spill over' into these white fields. In architectural models it is also a very good idea for the colour to 'spill' onto part of the gluing tabs.
2. Some designers also add a band of colour over the middle of the gluing tabs. So if the fit is not quite exact, no white becomes visible. This works especially well for our spaceships: when you turn them over in your hands any less than perfect join will be camouflaged this way.
3. The same problem occurs when two mirrored parts have to be glued together. They never fit, and you are always left with ugly white edges. AS the solution is literally too simple for words, just look at the two small squares in Figure 2. One is glued to treble thickness, the other to double thickness, then the parts are cut out. Look at the feathers again - you will now see why one side is slightly larger all round then the other.
Numbering and test building; sketches an written instructions
This is always a difficult bit. Start numbering too soon, and you will be punished for any mistake later on by having to correct and change all later numbers. Start too late, and you will have forgotten your brilliant ideas about the exact order in which one should tackle this model... A few suggestions.
1. Consider your model in terms of separate units or segments, such as fuselage, wings, tail, landing gear, cockpit etc.; then decide on the most logical (and therefore probably the easiest) order in which to build the segments.
2. Let's suppose the hull or fuselage to be the first stage. Break this down into segments again and number the individual parts 1,1a,1b etc (as in Figure 1). This way, if you decide to add or scrap a small part, the damage in terms of renumbering will be very limited.
3. While numbering the parts, always follow the exact and most logical order of building. With a rocket or plane fuselage, it is often best to start with the part in the middle, then build towards the nose, then towards the bottom. This is one of my very few points of criticism with regards to the WMV technique.
4. Always do (partial) test builds at this stage. It is really the only way to check if your brilliant computer design really works. Believe me, you will often hit on easier solutions, and improve your model.
5. If it isn't a very straightforward model, this is also a good time to start making sketches with the numbers added - sometimes a sketch is worth several paragraphs of text.
6. In my own experience, however clear and detailed the sketches, in some cases some explanation is inevitable. Try to keep this to an absolute minimum.
7. When everything is finished, add one or more overviews in which all parts can be located.
Size and thickness / weight of paper
Amazing, really, how few hobby designers seem to realize that paper, and ink, cost money and trees. I have regularly come across models spread over a dozen or so pages, which might easily have been 'compressed' into at most half a dozen. Or a model where the instructions took up considerably more pages than the model itself, all filled with dozens of colour pictures. Good for producers of ink and toners, not so good for us.
Have a look at these measurements first. They are the actual paper sizes; in the 'advised sizes' I have taken into account the fact that most printers leave a few millimetres margin.
A4 : 210 x 297 mms / 8.27 x 11.69 in
Letter : 215,9 x 279,4 mms / 8.5 x 11 in
ADVISED SIZE : 200 x 270 mms / 7.9 x 10.6 in
A3 : 297 X 420 mms / 11.69 x 16.54 in
Ledger / Tabloid : 279 x 432 mms / 11 x 17 in
ADVISED SIZE : 270 x 410 / 10.6 x 16.1 in
1. The world standard size is A4, the Americans use Letter. Most designers work with either of these two sizes. Larger models are sometimes printed on A3 and Ledger / Folio. Not a good solution, as very few people have a printer that size - and printing at a copy shop is expensive.
2. The difference between A4 and Letter regularly leads to worried, and often confused questions and discussions on various forums about their compatibility. This is why I strongly advise to opt for my 'Advised Size', and to mention this at the top of every page of your model: 'print on A4 or Letter'. Believe me: it will set a lot of people's minds at rest.
3. In the rest of the world, paper weight is simply measured in grams per square metre. Life is too short to understand or explain the USA system of points and pounds... Rule of thumb: use the two sorts of paper that are most easily found. I find 160 grams/mē very suitable, but some people prefer 140 or even 120. The final decision is up to the builder who downloads and prints your model, but if you (the designer) have reason to advise a particular weight, mention it at the top of the page.
Regular printer paper : 80 grams/mē / Suitable for text, instructions, small parts
Maximum weight for most printers : 160 grams/mē / Suitable for most model parts
1. The well known Thai designer Nobi (no longer active, alas) always started by drawing a frame of the 'advised size' first, with a clear page number always in the same position.
2. This done, try to use the available space on each page to capacity. It makes life easy for the builder if parts are grouped more or less in order, but if this means wasting space - if the parts are numbered carefully, the builder will find them.
3. Some designers put all 'construction' parts on a separate sheet: spars, formers, tabs. It is very practical if all parts that have to be laminated onto card are grouped together (and marked clearly: a * will do).
Go through your notes and sketches very carefully, and try to look at them from the point of view of a complete novice. Better still: ask someone who is interested, but not very experienced, to go through them for you.
1. 'Pictures speak louder than words'. Avoid text as much as possible.
2. Consider the building order one last time, and number your sketches correspondingly.
3. Try not to put too much information into one sketch - see that you concentrate on just one aspect of the building process per sketch.
4. Personally, I am not always happy with long series of photo's. A simplified line drawing is generally much more informative than a cluttered, colourful picture.
* * *
Dear reader and fellow paper-model-enthusiast. I have enjoyed making this survey of Tips and Suggestions for beginning designers, and sincerely hope it may be of some use to beginning designers. If I have missed or overlooked anything, please mail me at email@example.com, but bear in mind that tips for builders do not belong here. That is a different kettle of fish, as the (English) saying goes.
Diderick A. den Bakker
Zeist, Holland, April 2012.
Great work, Diderick - really useful and interesting to read.
One minor point in your last post, you state the Nobi is no longer active but certainly one designer by that name is busy enough here: Designing 1/72 Boeing A-160
Please critique my posts honestly i.e. say what you think so I can learn and improve...
The World According to Me
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This is a most excellent discussion! I appreciate the observations you have made and attempt to help better the hobby. I know there will be those who have their own creative methods that they will stick with, but is what makes this hobby appeal to everyone.
As a designer, I try to incorporate as much as I can (or know) like those you mention in order to better help the builder try to understand how to build the model. I will certainly give these all carefull consideration in future designs.
One minor thing thoug, I cannot see figure 3 when I hover my mouse over it. Can you repost it please? Thanks.
PM me if you need my email address.
Nobi back with us
Having read through part of this, I'm reminded of the quote of Kurt Vonnegut.. "Less is more." In some instances it's great to have an over abundance of information available, but there is also a point to where you have so much information that it results in overload. True, a picture is often worth a thousand words, following that line of thought a video must be worth a litterary novel. Most men are visually oriented, a throw back from being hunter gatherers. I found for myself that when learning to do something new that for me an exploded view of something and simple directions were a lot easier to understand than getting bogged down in the minutia of each step.
I rebuilt the carbuerator of my 68 Mercury when I was 17, just by looking at the exploded view of the instructions and setting the mixture ratio etc. This was far more productive for me than getting into the theory of the item and it's various operating functions. Later, after years of working things out on the fly, I had to get into the theory side of things while attending college. Even though at the time I had no formal education I was often tasked with teaching certain topics in engineering while on active duty in the US Navy and later in the reserves. Still later in life I ended up teaching school for industry, tech school and a Govt funded training program. I often created my own visual aids, props, charts, graphs etc, in order to facilitate the learning experience. I learned from being a student myself that you have to keep peoples interest and you have to make the learning fun to keep a groups attention. After teaching HVAC, Electronics, Auto-Mechanics and Computer Science for a local tech school as a Substitute, I found that my methodology did indeed work when the administrator informed me that I was the only Sub that they had that both the teachers and the students asked for by name. Later, I was offered a full time job either teaching electronics during the day, or teaching auto mechanics at night. Unfortunately, I made more money as a journeyman electrician and turned both jobs down. Besides, I really hate all of the political garbage that goes along with that sort of position. At any rate, my entire point is that you can litterally bore the builder, modeler to death with to much information. You have some interesting points in your methodology, but I can see that a trimmed down version of the minutia, might be a bit more beneficial. I'll show you what I mean in the next set of directions. Of course, there's always the point that you can lead someone by the hand and show them exactly how to do a thing and some people just cannot grasp basic mechanical reasoning, or spatial relationships.